Man charged over €32m Ballyseedy Garden Centre crystal meth haul refused bail due to flight risk

Father offered to sell home and put up €200,000 as a surety for James Leen (41), who court heard is working on a travel app

STOCK: The Courts of Criminal Justice on Parkgate St. Dublin
Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
The Criminal Courts of Justice Exterior view

A man charged over the country’s largest-ever crystal meth seizure, valued at more than €32 million, has been denied bail by the High Court despite his father’s offer to sell the family home and put up €200,000 as a surety.

James Leen (41), of Pilgrim Hill, Kilmourna, Listowel, Co Kerry, faces two charges of drug importation at Cork Port, Ringaskiddy, on October 16th last. The father of three is also accused of possessing methylamphetamine, known as crystal meth, worth €13,000 or more at Ballyseedy Garden Centre between October 27th last and mid-February.

He and his co-accused, businessman Nathan McDonnell, chief executive of Ballyseedy, were denied District Court bail in February and Mr McDonnell was also refused High Court bail.

High Court judge Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring on Friday refused Mr Leen bail after deeming him a flight risk.


The hearing was told that Mr Leen was setting up a travel app and the judge described it as a “conundrum” that a man on legal aid could travel so much when given a list of countries he had visited in recent years.

Det Sgt Ernie Henderson also objected to bail. He said that on February 15th, based on information gathered by the Kerry Divisional Drugs Unit, Customs officers at Cork Port examined a container.

He said the magnetic separator machine inside was not operative and featured “sophisticated concealment” which was purposely built to hide drugs. It contained 543kg of crystal meth. The court heard gardaí had established that the shipment arrived at Cork Port from Mexico on October 16th.

Det Sgt Henderson said it was believed that Mr Leen was the logistics figure in the importation and allegedly liaised with different figures internationally. It was claimed a company and its since deceased chief executive, code-named ‘Grandma’, had paid €40,000 for the machine.

The bail hearing was told that Mr McDonnell paid the €20,000 shipping charges. The machine remained at Ballyseedy Garden Centre for months before being moved to Cork Port for transportation to Australia.

Det Sgt Henderson said the value of the drugs in Ireland was €32.8 million but it would have been “substantially more” in Australia. The court heard further serious charges are to be considered in the case.

The court also heard there was CCTV footage of Mr McDonnell loading the machine into a container at the garden centre and giving Mr Leen documents from a shipping company. The offences, on conviction, carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum life sentence.

The officer also said Mr Leen spent a large amount of time out of Ireland and went to countries including Columbia, Spain, the UAE, Brazil, and the Netherlands. He said he feared that if bail were granted, Mr Leen could “put himself beyond the reach of An Garda Síochána”.

Defence counsel Ronan Prendergast told the court he was instructed that his client had been setting up a travel application for phones that was about to “go live”. He argued that while his client did not own an Irish property, he had ties to Ireland through his family’s presence here.

Mr Prendergast said his client’s father, who watched from the public gallery, had instructed the defence that he would put his home on the market to raise €200,000 bail.

Refusing the application, Ms Justice Ring said Mr Leen enjoyed the presumption of innocence, but she held that the evidence supported the contention and probability that he would not attend his trial if released.